Review of 4th Edition PH3 Playtests

I’ve had a chance to try out four of the play tests released from WotC for their upcoming Players Handbook 3.  I’m not sure if I should be excited or afraid of this next release.  It plays around with how a normal turn works and how a normal character acts which could be a really interesting development or something that adds way too much complexity to the game.

The first is the Monk a new class in the PH3.  The Monk is primarily a striker but Monkactually doesn’t do a bunch of damage.  It has an ability called Flurry of Blows that adds a bit of damage to one attack per round (much like Rangers, Warlocks and many other strikers).  The monk uses his fists and they are equitable to longswords.  The Monk doesn’t do as much damage as some of the other strikers but he makes up for that by being, by far, the most mobile class in the game.  Monks have abilities with the keyword “Full Discipline” in them and this means it takes up both a Standard and a Move action.  In essence, for the monk, those two actions are almost always used within the same power.  This might mean that you can do a great leap before attacking or shift gracefully around the battlefield attacking each foe you pass.  Playing a Monk is pretty interesting because it’s so different then many of the other classes, you are rewarded for moving all around and it adds a new aspect to combat.

The Psion is another new class and is a controller.  He Psion 1plays much like a controller but the interesting new thing about him is that he, instead of getting encounter abilities, gets something called power points.  Power points allow the Psion to augment any at-will’s he uses.  You can augment the at-will’s by one or two points.  At one point you are usually adding some sort of debilitating effect and then at two points you are adding more damage on top of that.  Every time you would gain an encounter power you instead gain two more points in your power point pool.  They regenerate after each short rest.  This allows the player to choose whether to do more big attacks with more status effects but less damage or fewer big attacks with both more status effects and more damage.  The Psion can also use telepathy and in general has a lot of use outside of combat.

Skill powers is one of the completely new mechanics being added in PH3.  You can choose to replaces your utility feats with skill powers if your skill ability is high enough.  These powers function like utility feats.  For acrobatics you might be able to stand up from prone as a minor action or with Arcana you might be able to use it in place of diplomacy checks.  Each skill has multiple skill powers you can derive from it and usually there is a variety of skill powers that are useful both in and out of combat.

Finally there’s the largest change, the hybrid class system.  For those of you who missed how multi-classing worked in 3rd edition this brings a bit of that back.  It’s not the same, in this you7 are literally half one class and half another, but it means you have many more options then multiclass feats offered.  My personal favorite was a Paladin/Sorcerer who used his heightened defenses to get up near the enemy and then let loose the sorcerer blast attacks.  This will end up with some characters being too overpowered and some being too underpowered, at least from what I have seen of it.  If you pick two completely different classes it would be easy to end up being mediocre at both.  Generally it works best if you choose two classes with the same base abilities but even then you get a sense you are sacrificing a lot for your heightened versatility.  They are still fun though and I know my players have enjoyed messing around with them a bit.

I’ve liked many of the things WotC has done with 4th edition.  It’s honestly one of the easiest versions to GM for and it’s a good compromise between having a lot of options and not being too overwhelming.  I feel like PH3 might push it into Psion 2having so many options that it could overwhelm many players.  Just looking at the hybrid rules I know I was very overwhelmed, and I’ve been playing it since it originally came out.  I like how they are playing around with what was standard in the previous books, but it could easily backfire.  The Psion and the Monk are fun to play, but with this experimentation with how turns and abilities work you may end up with other classes that are nearly useless or way too overpowered pretty easily.  Skill powers are overall a positive additions, I think, but I found that most players used their utility powers instead of them so I’m not sure how used they would be.  The hybrid class system is going to be a difficult change.  I look upon the other changes as most likely being good, but this I really can’t say that for.  It’s a bit muddled, they’ve done a good job making sure it’s not too overpowered, but I also think you might have some players who come up with fantastic character ideas but end up with their character being gimped in game because of the failings of the system or with certain build either being overpowered or the only mildly playable ones.  Either way I’m excited to see what WotC does with PH3 in the end, I think it will most likely be the 4e book with the most dramatic improvements in some areas and the biggest failures in others.

[tags]Dungeons and Dragons, Role Playing Games, Fantasy, 4th Edition, Players Handbook 3, Monk, Psion, Skill Powers, Hybrid Class [/tags]

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